wide open

January 19, 2019
One of the regular sites I go to has an editor that ends his weekly round-up of madcap news stories (all political because that’s where the crazies most regularly perform) with an excerpt from something he’s reading.  He posted this a week ago.

“To be a good human is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertainty, and on a willingness to be exposed. It’s based on being more like a plant than a jewel: something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.”

from The Monarchy of Fear: a Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis by Martha C. Nussbaum

This week he had a quotation from Hunter S. Thompson.
“We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.”
You can see the drift.  I think fear provides the terms of courage, but we can’t deny ourselves the chance to talk about the fear not only for healing trauma but more importantly in the off chance that there are people who need to see how life works from the inside-out.
Since the horrific holiday I endured many small kindnesses have been bestowed upon me  I don’t mean to diminish the significance of all of them by sharing a story of one in particular that ended up being … perhaps … a gift I wouldn’t have accepted if I’d understood the terms in advance.
Without dredging up the murky details, I needed another vehicle and a person in the middle of the week without almost no advance notice possible to get me out of the house I’d been renting.  If I hadn’t met a former NPS co-worker in a grocery store parking lot on Christmas Eve, I would have been out of luck.  Furloughed by the government shutdown, near by, and still harboring kind thoughts of me from our brief time working side-by-side in the late summer of 2017, Chris had assured me he’d be there when the time came.  And he was.  However, in circumstances he would never have allowed himself to get into, given his overall conservative, if not downright timorous nature, he couldn’t help but feel that his vehicle loan & mediocre stacking assistance also required a large portion of advice on how to live my life going forward.
This attitude had been seeping out in the short time I’d rushed around packing and shifting my few belongings into his truck and my car.  But it was when we finally got to my new apartment and I offered to buy him lunch as a thank you that he pronounced his final act of largesse.
“You can thank me by never talking about this to people,” he answered.  “If you meet a man, don’t start talking about court cases and suing your landlord and this and that.  He’ll label you as a ‘drama-mama’ and stay as far away from you as you can.  Just forget about what happened and put it all behind you.”
What I had endured in the almost three weeks since an alcoholic landlord had gone to the magistrate and secured an emergency protective order againt me based on lies he wasn’t required to prove deserved more than this.  I hadn’t required my former co-worker to sympathize – I had friends who were there for that – just to help me move with a minimum amount of judgment.  He had fallen short, and I felt bad that I was unable to be 100% grateful for the little he’d been able to offer that I had indeed needed.
After he left, my thoughts were now not only oppressed by the recent reign of terror but also that this person was sincerely convinced that by counselling me to keep my mouth shut he was doing me a favor, one greater than providing a truck.  That this person had been witness to another instance of my being bullied out of a job the Autumn we worked together and that he was currently furloughed due to the government shutdown — another manifestation of the bullying now in full ascendance everywhere — made it more dispiriting.  His advice distinctly implied that I was drawing these unfortunate events to me by my behavior and that to stop them I must never speak of them to anyone.  Was there no possibility of making connections in this increasingly hostile world that were based on solidarity against the oppressors?  Did we all have to cower in fear, hoping the storm would pass over us and devastate someone else — hopefully someone we didn’t know so we could pretend we “deserved” our near-miss?
Well, the mind, if cultivated assiduously, is there to find or create some form of survival mechanism, whether it’s a tattered life raft or an elaborate long-range escape plan.  It didn’t take long for me to realize was that there was no way I was required to buy into the fear he was shoveling my way.  Buying into it, in fact, was the one sure way to make it grow bigger, stronger, more dangerous.  Testifying about the fear, about the trauma, was one way to find out who was willing to stand beside you and say “Me too.”  It was a way to remind others hiding in the dark places of their mind, in the most depressed moments of their — and our nation’s — lives, that it is because of fear that we are able to express faith and hope and courage.  To be, in essence, a human being still capable of openness and trust, the only species I’m a card-carrying member of and the only species capable of creating a way out of this mess.
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This Christmas will not be televised

December 23, 2018

“The candle is not lit
To give light, but to testify to the night.”

— Robert Bly

For the past few mornings, I’ve been lucky to spy Mercury and Jupiter in the eastern sky.  Messengers of hope during (yet another) dark time.

Last night I lit a lightly cedar-scented candle, hoping it would hold its own against the horrible chemical fragrance arising from downstairs and pushing its way into my room.  In the dark I tried comforting myself with the thought that the scent was a residue from cleaning up another mess from landlord’s aging toy poodle and would dissipate by morning.  When I arose to find that they’d managed to hit on the one thing that could drive me out of a hole – a plug-in unit emitting Febreeze – I felt desolate.  The police officers they called 3 times last Tuesday evening would not do a thing to me, but this might well do the trick.

It’s a dreary time here in what was once my refuge, as my landlord and wife have returned.  Knowing the facts of how he bullied previous tenants long-distance and how easily any good will my behavior accrues over time gets trashed when the other person’s value system is premised on zero compassion, I looked but failed to find a temporary lodging for me and George.  A few friends counseled that I was overreacting: “they might be lovely people,” they opined.  I knew this translated into “shut up with your stupid anxieties” but decided that I might well be underestimating my abilities to endure what was supposed to be a brief layover before they moved into their Maryland condo.

But time speeds up when vast quantities of vodka are involved.  Within 24 hours I knew this was one of the prevailing factors behind his previous e-mailed rants.  But what did this knowledge matter?  I am in the soup, and it stinks of Febreeze.

I have about a week to go before my new apartment is painted and cleaned.  When the quotation above came to me this morning, minutes after I’d stepped back into this Bed-Bath-and-Beyond-scented hell following my communion with the planets and the river at dawn, I thought, “This is another gift.”  Art reminds us of our best abilities: not merely those that allow us to endure punishing humiliations but those that find the gleaming threads connecting us to others across time and space, that allow us to grasp them, and hold them close in our darkest hours.

 

a brief update: the return

October 3, 2018
I’ve been too busy to get to the bottom of the date I put in my application for the adjunct faculty position in American Literature that I’m now filling at the community college.  It seemed significant to know.  But with working 2 jobs, commuting to 2 homes, and then, finally, moving, I’ve had to let more than a few things slide.  Today, puttering around and pulling out slips of paper with various user ids and passwords, I located the Virginia state application information and captured the date: December 15, 2017.
This was the day I’d seen my former lover, almost 15 months to the day we had said goodbye.  After that reunion, in the dark of the moon, at the end of a long tumultuous year, I put a resume in a bottle and sent it down stream.  In August 2018 the new academic dean would place it on the top of a stack of papers and e-mail me.  On the morning of August 10, opening my e-mail at my job at Great Falls Park, I would have to read his inquiry twice before I could recall that an earlier version of myself had tried to find a way to remain in the Northern Neck before she’d decided to leave at the end of April.
This is what I wrote before the dawn broke last December 16.
The crescent moon is so thin it looks more like a cut out through which a brighter radiance is shining.  Spica, Mars, and Jupiter lead the way, a crooked path the moon, exhausted, has already traveled.
I think of what I have learned, this lunar cycle, this year, this life.  Even memories from last summer seem to arrive from someone else’s life.  Watching the Capricorn full moon lift over the canyon walls in Bandelier.  Was that me?  Walking before dawn in Colonial Beach. The Rio Grande in Spring.  Now here.
At this moment, what feels true is that I have learned what it is to love.  Real love isn’t about what you might derive from the transaction.  “If I love him, he’ll cook dinner, sit with me on Friday nights, empty the trash can full of my discarded kleenex, never leave.”  Those are bargains based on a false economy of gain and loss.  Real love understands the world as it is — a place where others gamble for the upper hand but where true lovers have already swallowed loss, understanding that beauty and truth necessarily partake in it.
So now I love not only a man as divided against himself as any other but everything he loves.  I no longer sense a division, a competition, between what he gives to me and what he gives, for instance, to his wife, to his children, to the shut-ins who will see his sunny smile more often than I ever will.
My gift has to be not to let him know.  Because I’m strong enough.  Because I know what I can do without.  Because the more love I send out into the world, the more I will receive.  That it is not reciprocal?  Oh well.  We all have our problems.
This morning the Potomac is tranquil.  How beautiful.  How the Universe lets me know that I am taken care of.  What changes are afoot, I wonder.  Am I prepared?  Will I be able to afford a new pair of jeans?
Once again, after a hectic summer in metro DC, George and I are in our refuge on the edge of the Potomac.  From deep within me I am retrieving parts of myself I had forgotten that I knew.
What I wrote in my last incarnation at this spot seems true not just for loving people but for loving the world.  Loss is the one thing that’s assured in this life, but when you toss things away, amazing gifts can rush in to fill the void.  Or so the river tells me.

A trick of light

April 28, 2018

a good omen

A post I wrote years ago was about rainbows.  A friend had given me a crystal pieced out from a chandelier, and when the sunlight hit, small rainbows would dance across the surrounding surfaces.  On sunny days, Bandit would tire himself chasing them; on cloudy days, he sit morose, troubled for a reason he couldn’t quite identify.  My post ended with the proclamation, “yes, Bandit, there will be rainbows.”  It’s a phrase I’ve thought of again and again over the many years, cloudy and sunny.

In this beautiful location where I’ve been privileged to nest for almost 7 months, the same crystal, hanging from a east-facing french door, has brought me many rainbows.  That I have struggled with many demons during this time of solitude is an understatement.  Yet each time I see those bouncing dots of refracted light, I think of Bandit’s joy, which for me represents a total commitment of being in the moment that is the gift of incarnation.

George and I will be leaving today.  We will be going to a place that will challenge us both in ways we currently cannot imagine.  I am hoping, for both of our sake’s, that we will find strength in knowing that even during our lowest moments what is best in ourselves and in others is also present.  Last night’s lovely rainbow over the Potomac seems a good harbinger for our new adventures.

 

 

A breakfast feast

April 13, 2018

queenofhearts

There is no use trying, said Alice; one can’t believe impossible things. I dare say you haven’t had much practice, said the Queen. . Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.                                               Lewis Carroll

As dawn rose this morning, I greeted a river otter, an osprey, an eagle, and a blue heron and thought of Lewis Carroll’s Queen.  Two hours later, this quotation floated my way.  How many miraculous, impossible things cross our paths as we rush through our lives?

 

Time is on our side

March 11, 2018

I met Jean my last year in undergrad.  A core group were taking both the Virginia Woolf and the honors literary criticism seminars, so in the natural way young people do (and older people don’t), we fell in together.

Jean’s mind moves like a computer except she’s working with one or two more dimensions, making her mental loops fluid and fascinating.  Add to this her urban upbringing and her spot-on taste, and even a myopic magoo like me was intimidated.  After we graduated, that she’d been biding her time awaiting her reunion with better company was obvious.  We stayed in touch mostly due to my persistent letter-writing, until I found what I thought were my own people, ex-husband-to-be included.

Fast-forward some twenty odd years, and I’m wondering if I can find her on the internet, a do-hickey that was still in its university swaddling clothes when we’d last signed off.  And there she was.  Reconnecting with her was one of the shining lights of a 2017 where fog enshrouded and eroded much of what I’d thought was happening (aka, my reality).

Besides the advantage of the internet, we now also had cheaper long distance, so we were able to catch up in some small measure.  My lack of discernible progress in the material world ceased to embarrass me when she shared her own dissatisfactions.  We began to share strategies and insights, dream interpretations, youtube links, and photos.  As other friends had dropped away, retrieving Jean from the past was a timely gift.

The distance and difference between us, however, remained.  She had jumped from San Francisco to NYC to LA to Paris to Austin and back to the Bay Area, while my wanderings had taken me to places like Southern Utah, Yellowstone, New Mexico, and the Northern Neck of Virginia.  I don’t think she could conceive of why I would chose to live in these spots.  Helping me sort out my vision for the future, she offered a provocative comment:  “I think you’re avoiding something  because you think you’ll get contaminated by it.”  The assessment sounded right to me, but she thought I’d done the calculations wrong.

I was taking time to ponder the merits of this critique when she sent me a link.  “Great job for you,” she e-mailed.  The title did sound intriguing:  “Narrative strategist.”

Since I’d welcomed Jean’s earlier commands, like the latest version of What Color Is Your Parachute, as good structuring exercises, I read through the description with as much open-mindedness as I could muster, no easy task after the fifth sentence which touted serving clients like Facebook and Google and other “global change-makers.”

Eventually, despite my sympathetic willingness to imagine myself as more affluent and much much hipper and busier, even a cursory look at the job showed how I wouldn’t fit.  I was not only a “luddite” but proud to be so, and I was about as far down the line as anyone could be from their imagined candidate who was “passionate about disruptive technology.”

Passionate about disruptive technology?!  A storyteller?!  Would Homer be passionate about disruptive technology?  George Eliot?  Tolstoy?  I might be an “inherent optimist, with faith in the future despite the immense challenges of our time” and possess the “ability to process complex stacks of information without getting lost down a rabbit hole” as they phrase it, but I’d rather put my intellectual juice into conversations on how disruptive technology affects our ability to summon resonant metaphors and strategies for how to counteract it than into pretending it’s enhancing our lives.

Basically, the small start up wants to “on-board” someone to use stories to sell shit or to justify shit.  To convince people that shit doesn’t smell like shit because there isa beautiful story that connects us all to shit or whatever the fuck they need to do to make money so they can keep up their aesthetically and spiritually multi-hued new agey lifestyle in Sonoma county.  One of the bulleted “capabilities” for the position was “Maturity – you must have an active contemplative practice.”

During this moment, as I sat slackjawed, probing my disinterest in stepping up into the metropolitan fast-paced future Jean was envisioning for me, a few other “tells” passed in front of my eyes.  First, a Guinness beer ad that suspiciously sounded as if it were narrated by Alan Cumming, that deliciously gay man with a gorgeous Scottish accent.  Over images of all manner of folk connecting over a pint of frothing ale, the ad tells us that, in our desire to cozy up to friends and alcohol, we’re all alike deep down.  Okay, fine, I like beer too, and Cumming is hot regardless of his sexual preference.   All good.  But what if the challenge were to de-weaponize Amazon with a compelling story?

Then I stumbled across an article detailing what certain behaviors convey about a person revealed that long e-mail messages show neediness.  Well, yeah, that’s me, I conceded.  Needy.  Look at how long this blog post is.  And guess what?  NO ONE READS THEM.  After the shame the stupid content managers had slimed me with dribbled away, there remained a flicker of anger.  Yeah, I’m fucking needy, I wanted to shout.  I need people to pay attention; I need people to think for themselves.  I need people to understand how their day job is connected to the rest of the world.  My bad!

Then another article, which makes 3 and certifies this as a fairy-tale,  began with this quotation

We cannot be careful enough in refusing to act as splitters (i.e., like the Nazi doctors) or in refusing to live a split life in that sense.  And yet, in many circumstances, we cannot avoid acting as economic men and women of our time, performing certain professions and thus maiming our hearts.

— Ivan Illich In Conversation (David Cayley, editor)

I had a wild hair of a thought using a picture of the stories I was currently consuming as part of a job application.  An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States; Cheyenne Autumn; Killers of The Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and The Birth of the FBI; Pillar of Fire: American in the King Years 1963-1965; The Magic Mountain.  Which of these stories, I imagined asking coyly, might they ask me to draw upon to craft a narrative strategy for Facebook or, say, Energy Transfer Partners?

I suspect that the e-mail I received from Jean in response to my “thanks but no thanks” signals our friendship has shifted on to a back burner if not into cold storage.  This time, however, despite not yet finding my tribe, I’m less hurt.  She’s given me much to think about, even if it’s an awareness of where I don’t want my life to go and why.  And I hope when we connect again I’ll be able to report my progress and she’ll be able to share hers.  The stories we share will be complicated ones, cobbled together after we’ve done the hard work to chisel out and stay close to what’s most important to us.  I’ll drink to that!